Adaptive Athletes - Tough & Triumphant

Adaptive Athletes - Tough & Triumphant


24 September 2016


Feel like you busted a lung doing that run? Or that you can’t raise your arms above your head after that give-it-all-you’ve-got Liv Lo HIIT workout? Now imagine doing your workout without a leg, or with poor cognitive control. The recent achievements in the Paralympics 2016 have inspired awe across the world. We shed some light on the lesser known side of the fitness industry – adaptive athletes.

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Who are adaptive athletes?

An adaptive athlete is anyone who must adapt to a situation related to their fitness goals and needs, whether by rules and/or equipment. Whilst the term “adaptive” may apply to physical, cognitive and/or emotional limitations, this extends to athletes with:

  • muscle spasticity and/or dystrophy
  • poor control of motor skills
  • loss of limbs (sometimes even quadruple amputees)
  • Down’s syndrome or autism
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Scoliosis
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Dwarfism

Krystal Cantu
Credit: StrongFitnessMag

Some athletes are born different, while others have unfortunate incidents. One such example is Krystal Cantu, who was already active in sports and was loving her life when just a few weeks away from her first competition, was involved in a car accident that resulted in the amputation of her right arm above her elbow. She shares: “I lost a lot that day. I lost confidence in myself as a woman, I lost dreams and I lost a piece of me that I didn’t think I could ever get back. My arm was never and will never be something I consider as a loss, it was everything else that the eye couldn’t see. I stayed strong on the inside and out for my family, my boyfriend and my friends. I pushed myself to learn to live a normal life very quickly for them. The last thing I wanted was for the important people in my life to see me weak, because I wasn’t raised to be weak.” Krystal is 7 months pregnant (at the time of writing) and is still living the fit lifestyle.

What is the history of adaptive athletes?

The evolution of adaptive sports for people with physical limitations started growing after World War II when soldiers returning from war had to undergo rehabilitation. The rehabilitation activities then changed to recreational and eventually, competitive sports. It is no surprise that the roots of the current Paralympic Games can be traced back to these early hospital rehabilitation sports (Sue Boeve, 2013).

United States Marine, Cpl. Todd Love, part of Team X-T.R.E.M.E.
at The Spartan Race in Virginia

Credit: Spartan Race

Corporal Todd Love lost both legs above the knee and his left arm below the elbow while serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. The 22-year-old now weighs about 100 pounds and set out to “push himself in all things physical, proving that overcoming obstacles isn’t just something you attempt, it’s something that you embrace.”

Watch a snippet of Team X-T.R.E.M.E. in the Spartan Race.

I’m curious how it feels like to be an adaptive athlete. How can I modify my workout to put myself in this position?

  • Wheelchair-bound: Sit in a chair, on the ground or on a box to perform movements.
  • Brachial Plexus Injuries & Arm Amputees: Tie an arm down to keep from activating it.
  • Above the Knee Amputee (AK) & Hip Disarticulation Amputees: Hop on one leg or use a box for squats.
  • Cerebral Palsy (CP) or Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Get on your knees or sit for much of the workout.
  • Blind Athletes: Use a blindfold to work out.

Who are some of these adaptive athletes I can follow?

Joshua Rucker
Credit: Youtube

Weightlifting & Calisthenics: Joshua Rucker (@ifbbproruck13) was on his way to work when he was 18 when the rear axle in the commercial vehicle that he was driving snapped, causing the vehicle to flip 14 times. He was pronounced dead on the scene but managed to wake up from his coma after a month. He placed 4th in the 2013 IFBB Houston Pro and is a member of the Barstarzzz crew.

Tennis: Dylan Alcott (@dylanalcott) was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord which was operated on during the first few weeks of his life, leaving him a paraplegic. He was part of Australia’s men’s wheelchair basketball team that won gold in the 2008 Paralympic Games. In the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games, he picked up another gold medal but in a completely different sport on the men’s tennis quad doubles final alongside partner Heath Davidson.

Obstacle Race Challenge: Misty Diaz (@lilmistydiaz) was born with Spina Bifida, 3x World Record Breaker for Spartan Adaptive Athlete, 8 x Spartan Trifecta holder and has run 130+ races!

Erin Ball
Credit: Instagram

Aerial Circus: Erin Ball (@erinballcircus) has been training in circus for over nine years, with 11 months off due to life changing events that resulted in the loss of her lower legs. She owns Kingston Circus Arts, where she trains and teaches static trapeze, aerial hoop, partner acrobatics, handstands and flexibility.

CrossFit: Lindsay Hilton (@lahltn) was born with one arm ending before the elbow and the other just after the elbow, and with both legs ending before the knees. She completes her workouts with weightlifting hooks and Velcro straps to lift barbells and do pull-ups. "I was born missing my limbs ... and I never really thought that was holding me back," she said.

Credit: Cross Fit/Facebook

Snowboarding: Michelle Salt (@parashredder) broke several bones and severed her femoral artery causing her to almost bleed to death in a motorcycle accident. She lost her right leg 10 inches above the knee and could not even sit up as she spent five months in the hospital. With utmost determination, just nine months after the accident, Michelle competed as the first ever Female Canadian Paralympic snowboarder at Sochi in 2014. In 2015, she became a National Champion and she also placed third in the 2015 Canadian World Cup. Without a leg and lots of scars, she is also a NPAA Fitness Model. She advises: “When you feel the worst and try your hardest, you gain the most.”

Davi Teixeira
Credit: Luciano Cabal

Surfing: Davi Teixeira (@davizinhoradical), born with Amniotic Band Syndrome in 2006, is a non-prosthetic World Adaptive Surfer who spends his free time swimming, surfing and skateboarding. "When I'm out on the waves, I feel like I'm flying; it’s the best feeling in the world! I want to surf professionally within my limitations, I want to be good at everything I do and I want people to know that to make your dreams come true, just believe that you can,” he said.

All of us, able-bodied or not, should not directly compare our fitness levels with these adaptive athletes, or set unrealistic expectations for our own athletic performance. As the 2014 Paralympic campaign puts it: “It’s not what’s missing, it’s what’s there”.

Stay tuned for Part II of Adaptive Athletes where we speak to two Adaptive Athlete Coaches.


Cantu, K. (2016). About Krystal Cantu. Retrieved from Krystal Cantu:

Favorito, J. (23 April, 2016). Adaptive Sports Rise With The Change In Acceptance. Retrieved from Sports Marketing & PR Roundup:

Rivera, D. (2016). Corey Reed: Blind Amputee, Adaptive Athlete, CrossFitter. Retrieved from Breaking Muscle Web site:

Sue Boeve, S. C. (28 January, 2013). Adaptive sports allow persons with disabilities to get out and participate. Retrieved from Living Without Limitations Web site: (8 November, 2015). Breaking Paradigms. Retrieved from Surfar Web site:

Tutton, M. (29 March, 2016). Crossfit video featuring Halifax rugby player goes viral. Retrieved from CBC News: